Jameela Jamil on Zoom.

Activist and “The Good Place” actress, Jameela Jamil spoke with Harvard students via Zoom.

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Arts & Culture

Jameela Jamil is in a good place

3 min read

The actor and activist talks cancel culture, fatphobia, and diversity in Hollywood

The inaugural session of “Off Camera,” a live monthly conversation with artists produced by the Office for the Arts, brought actor and activist Jameela Jamil together with Harvard College students on Zoom last Friday. Describing herself as “queen of the hot mess,” the actor best known for her work on “The Good Place” said she felt “fairly devastated” by 2020.

“Anxious people, this is our Olympics. This is the year that we really have to survive,” said Jamil, adding that she felt “strangely hopeful” because celebrities have been rightfully dethroned as societal heroes by the real ones: essential workers and health care workers.

The blunt and funny Jamil was introduced by Hollywood producer Nicky Weinstock ’91, who conceived of “Off Camera” for the OFA. Weinstock, who changed concentrations three times and did a creative senior thesis after being told he couldn’t, also addressed the unsettled state of the world.

“But at any college, breaking the bubble and letting in the mess of life … and [facing] all of the challenges earlier rather than later is probably one of the better things to happen to you as a human,” he said.

Jamil answered students’ questions on a variety of topics.

On cancel culture versus call-out culture: “We need to separate what’s been canceled and what’s being called out. Celebrities are such snowflakes. They don’t know how to take criticism, because they’ve never been criticized before. So when they’ve just been called out, they’ll cry cancel culture, but that’s not very helpful because it muddies the waters to what cancellation is. Cancellation means being de-platformed, having your rights taken away, your job taken away, your finances being harmed. That mostly happens to civilians, not celebrities. I got canceled 45 times in February. All of my shows got recommissioned, I landed a huge campaign, and my book deal remains. I’m [expletive] fine.”

On advice for young artists: “Don’t gate yourself off. If there’s ever a year to show us no point in making plans, it’s this one. We’re in this perfection-obsessed generation. You are at an elite school and of an elite IQ. It’s so important that you must not look at failure as a bad thing. That’s where all of the beauty and magic happens. If I was afraid of what people would think of me, I would still be an English teacher.”

On being Indian/Pakistani in Hollywood: “It can be a lot of pressure. … It’s quite remarkable to have been in industry 11 years and I can count on one hand how many peers I have.”

On self-talk: “Recognize your inner bully. Listen to the things you say to yourself every day. If you wouldn’t tolerate [someone] saying those things to someone you love, you aren’t allow to say them to yourself.”